Be a Hospitality Maverick

Right now, hotels are falling into a trap. 

The industry has embraced the reopening road-map with gusto.Government and sector leaders are pushing the message hard.Industry forums are awash with practical advice. Health and safety professionals are measuring out a new normal. HR leaders are signing off on ways to maintain service and distance. And hoteliers are ticking boxes.

They are practical people, focused on immediate problem resolution by taking real action to allay customers’ concerns. But they are busy going through the reopen motions and forgetting to reality check. There is so much focus on the operational necessities before doors reopen that there is little time for the real work of planning. Scenario planning and budget planning may be missed.

Will you have the customers and the revenue to keep going? 

We’re in Jerry Maguire territory: “Show Me The Money.”

And make no mistake, the measures being taken will prove onerous and costly and sometimes impractical. And many hotels will close again. That’s sobering, but it’s reality. Because right now, hotels are still trying to imagine business as usual. Which is a risky place to be in an industry facing unprecedented challenges.Truth is, the road-map is smudged.

The satnav is umming and ahhing. 

None of us knows what the next few months, maybe even the next few years, will bring. Ask our colleagues in Kerry how long the ripples of the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic were felt in daily business operations.Too long. Faced with the unknown, it is invariably a mistake to act before thinking.Too many businesses are digging their way back to the surface before assessing the lay of the land. What did Gary Hemel of Strategos tell us?

 “The problem with the future is that it is different. If you are unable to think differently, the future will arrive as a surprise.”

 Almost 90% of the Fortune 500 companies from 60 years ago no longer exist. Mostly because those firms failed to anticipate a changing environment and innovate accordingly. That is key to avoid being the sector example; the Xtravision, MySpace or BlackBerry.

Pre-Covid mindsets must be cast aside. 

How next? That needs to be thought through carefully.This isn’t the time to rely on lazy old consultancy hacks. It’s not the time for “watch your competitors”, “protect your ADR” or “Use an RMS as your guiding toolkit”. Of course we should inform ourselves, but that is a given. Another box ticked. Those simply looking around at competitors will fall behind others with deeper pockets, more industry influence, or a higher Google ranking.

An open mind and creative approach has never been more important. Get your accountants talking to your marketers, sure. But the businesses that will succeed are the ones that truly appreciate their staff and customers. Not the ones that pretend to. Now is the time to explore the thoughts of your front of house people. What will reassure them? What will inspire them?  And now is certainly the time to truly understand your customer. Find out who they are, and most importantly, what they want. And then exercise that wonderful hotelier skill to deliver.

Create good news stories and excitement for customers with real innovation. That might be check-in, checkout, or in-room experiences. But with the tourism model irrevocably changed, the properties that identify new revenue sources may prove more robust at survival.

Augmented Hospitality, if you prefer.

 The Accor hotel group embraced the concept when launching Accorlocal in France in 2017. It recognised that other services from the locality — from yoga classes to ordering flowers — could not only bring additional revenue, but create a wider group of enthusiastic brand advocates. And it immersed the property within its catchment area. I noticed a similarly transformative change when developing a Christmas offering on the grounds of a resort property. Yes, it created a seismic shift in monthly revenue and opened the brand to a new cohort of customers. But more remarkably, it positively altered existing customers’ view of how they could interact with the property. Be it corporate regulars returning with their family – ‘bleisure’ if you will – or brides rearranging their photo-shoots, ensuring they include Santa and his entourage as part of the big day.

It is the CitizenM philosophy — in an industry increasingly tending toward homogeneity, while consumers are travelling swiftly in the opposite direction, the ability to re-imagine the core of hospitality affords a distinct competitive advantage. The rush to reopen is understandable. But it misses the opportunity to be sincere with our businesses, to take the time to draft a genuine road-map through a changed world. It is a time for reality checks. But also for enthusiasm and imagination. For truly believing the new normals of hospitality can be more compelling for customers than what went before. 

As Dorothy said to Jerry Maguire: “In this age, optimism like that… it’s a revolutionary act.”

But at a time of profound change, the revolutionaries are likely to outlast the box-tickers.

Author: Seamus Leahy, Invite Resorts



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